Under normal circumstances, death is rarely an event to be celebrated. But in the case of a tyranical dictator responsible for millions of deaths, mass starvation and cruelty beyond imagination, exceptions can be made. From the NYTimes:
SEOUL, South Korea — Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader who realized his family’s dream of turning his starving country into a minor nuclear-weapons power even as the isolated nation sank further into despotism, died on Saturday of a heart attack, according to the country’s state-run media.
The North had kept news of the death of its leader secret for roughly two days, perhaps a sign that the leadership was struggling to position itself for what many believe could be a particularly perilous transition. A few hours after the announcement, the powerful Workers’ Party and government officials released a joint statement suggesting Mr. Kim’s chosen successor, his youngest son, Kim Jong-un, was in charge.
While we don't know much about the isolated country, everything we do points to a horrifically impoverished nation that has been so badly abused by its government that it barely functions as a state.
An AP article on the country reported the following back in 2009:
[Vitit] Muntarbhorn, who has investigated North Korea for five years but never gained entry, consulted with U.N. agencies working in North Korea and human rights groups outside. He said the government was also torturing people outside official prisons in interrogations or other places of detention.
Muntarbhorn also spoke with North Korean refugees in South Korea, Japan and Mongolia in preparing his report.
"The abhorrent prison conditions, including lack of food, poor hygiene, freezing conditions in winter time, forced labor and corporal punishment, result in a myriad of abuses and deprivations," Muntarbhorn said.
"Although torture is prohibited by law, it is extensively practiced," the unpaid Thai law professor told the U.N. body that assigned him to report on North Korea.
North Korea is routinely described in U.N. and other reports as one of the world's most repressive regimes. Its economy is shattered and its people have suffered through years of hunger, even as iron-fisted leader Kim Jong Il has focused the country's limited resources on building the military and its nuclear and missile programs.
To get an idea of just how bad the country was under Kim Jong-Il's leadership, I'd suggest watching this documentary about a young man who escaped from a North Korean prison. It's not for the faint of heart, but it gives a terrfiying and accurate account of life under the repressive regime.
It's hard to imagine the country getting worse under Kim Jong-Un, but given we know absolutely nothing about him, anything is possible. The last thing the country needs is prolonged instability, so hopefully the international community can attempt to build bridges with the new leader and encourage him to engage with the outside world. It may be wishful thinking, but there is a window to bring about some change in North Korea thanks to the death of Kim Jong Il - an event North Koreans may one day celebrate.